With Goodness, Anything Goes: Part 1

Chris and I recently applied for, and were accepted into People’s Liberty Residency for this upcoming February through May.  The residency looks for “master storytellers. Graphic designers, writers, bloggers, Twitter gurus, photographers, animators, videographers.”  Chris and I are teaming up to be storytellers of those doing interesting, creative, or disruptive work in Cincinnati.   While we anxiously wait for February, we’ve started interviewing people to get our feet wet, and to hopefully deepen the relationships that Chris has with those people.  To date, we’ve done four interviews.  Spanning from a coffee shop to dinner at LaRosa’s to an executive’s office we’ve found that people are willing to share their stories if asked.  Below is an excerpt from Tim Vogt that we’ll break up into a series of posts.

CHRIS SCHAEFER: Describe the path that got you to where you are now.
TIM VOGT: Hmm… Well there are two answers to this question. One could be professionally, and then there’s one that could be personally. The best way to describe those would be that they kinda have a crisscross effect of over each other and around each other. I grew up in Campbell County, which is really close to Alexandria.  It’s pretty much, pretty rural. I remember growing up, I knew where my grandparents grew up, I knew where my father grew up, my mother grew up.  I could visit those places. Where I lived, we could just go out in the woods and run around all day and go to the neighbors place and play with them. We had a lot of freedom growing up. And we also had a lot of family around us all the time.   I definitely felt at some point that I needed to break out of that story. When I went to college, I went to NKU and I was still at home. I don’t really know how but I decided that I did want to get away, and do something different. But I only wanted to do that for a summer because I had a scholarship and I didn’t want to lose that. So I went into the career guidance center and said, “what can I do for a summer?” And they said “summer camps!” and my choices were to work at a camp for rich kids in Massachusetts or a camp for people with disabilities in California. I definitely thought that California sounded a lot better than Massachusetts. I just called them and they said “yep, we’re hiring counselors, it’s only $125 a week and you’ll be working basically 24/7.” And I said okay, and they said you’ll be living there for free, and I said, okay, that’s sounds good. It ended up that three of us, some of my friends, went out there and worked there all summer. We didn’t really know what we were getting into…we had a really great time. We made sure that our cabins were a lot of fun.  We would dig up the totem pole at the entrance of camp and we spend a whole three days digging a hole in front of our cabin and we would disguise it at night. We would put cots over top of it and act as though we were just sitting there and chilling.  And then we would go up to the totem pole during the day and dig that up too.  And we would prop it up, it was a big telephone pole, like 12 feet, and we’d cover that up with rocks and stuff so no one knew we were digging that up.  One night, at midnight, we all got up the whole cabin– all twelve of us—3 counselors, nine campers and we stole the totem pole and put it out front of our cabin. The next morning when we woke up, everyone was shocked. We had pulled off the prank! … We would just do all kind of crazy things. We had such a good time, but I learn a lot too. I remember talking to a couple of guys with cerebral palsy after a couple days of working with them and they told me to slow down. I didn’t know this about myself but I was speeding them from activity to activity. They said, “listen to us!” And we spent three hours talking. And because of their cerebral palsy, because of the way they spoke, it takes a long time to speak. So I had to listen for three hours. It really taught me that listening to people, really hearing what they say is more important than getting stuff done.

I also learned, the other lesson that I really love, is that I almost got fired…Another guy who has cerebral palsy, showed up at camp with whiskey in his backpack and this guy, his name was Dominic. He didn’t speak.  He would use a letter board and spell words out. And he shows up with camouflage jacket and a hat that says “sounds like bullshit to me” and he had this big boom box with these Led Zeppelin records and I was just kinda shocked that he actually had a really adult, edgy personality. I came from some heavy metalers back in Kentucky so I knew these kind of guys. He brought a 12 pack of Coke. No one else ever brought that the whole summer. He brought cigarettes, Pall Mall filterless cigarettes and we would have to light those for him every day.  We would all like, fight, who got to light his cigarette. Because we weren’t allowed to smoke while we worked but if we worked with Dominic, we got to do that. We got to have a few puffs.  And he knew, he knew if you worked with Dominic that he was like, the guy that allowed you to smoke with him [laughs].  So he would skip swimming because he thought that was stupid. And we’d sit there and smoke cigarettes and talk.  Then one day after we were done smoking, he somehow motioned to his backpack.  He didn’t want his plain Coke, he wanted something from his back pack…. Finally I pulled out this flask and it was whiskey. And I said “Whiskey?” and he’s like “yeah” and started laughing and I said “you want a shot of this in your coke?” And he’s like “yeah.”   This guy was 27 so he’s not like underage and he’s also brought it himself.  I didn’t go out and buy it. So, I said sure, I saw this as like his vacation and so every day, I would pour him a shot of whiskey in his coke and he’d drink it and smoke his cigarette and just chill out…

Somehow, later in the week one of my co-counselors told a head counselor thinking it was funny. The head counselor reported it and I got written up.  They said you’re gonna get fired. I had to promise I would never do anything like that again. I had to sign a bunch of forms. I totally understand why it was against camp policy but I was simply being his arms.

I mean, having a shot of whiskey with your coke is a very adult thing to do. And I was shocked that I could get in trouble for that.  Now that I look back on it, I’m really proud that I got in trouble for that. It really cemented something that’s really important to me which is people deserve to live life. They deserve to live it on their own terms. It’s not like he was getting wasted. It’s not like he was 16. It’s not like I was pouring it down his throat. Nothing nefarious was happening. With goodness, anything goes, right? I was interesting in the fact that I was one of the best counselors that summer. I listened to people.  I had conversations with people with disabilities, I didn’t just put them to bed and go off with other counselors. I considered myself one of the best counselors there that summer, but I was the one about to get fired to do something that was being asked of me by someone who couldn’t use their arms. It was a human request. So I’ve just remembered now, it really cemented this thought that maybe rules aren’t legitimate, especially around people with disabilities. And so I think I’ve been doing that for a long time. Just breaking those kinds of rules. Trying to figure out how to do that more and how to just liberate people and myself from those kinds of things.

Candice Jones Peelman